By Ken Weingartner—-When Bettor’s Wish won May’s Art Rooney Pace at Yonkers Raceway, it served as a harbinger of the colt’s rise to prominence among 3-year-old pacers. On Saturday, he returns to The Hilltop for the first time since that victory, facing five rivals in the first of two eliminations of the Messenger Stakes.
Bettor’s Wish was not staked to the Messenger, so his connections paid $30,000 to make him eligible to the race. The colt, trained and co-owned by Chris Ryder, has won seven of 10 races this year (finishing second in his three defeats) and earned $839,544, which tops all horses in North America. He heads to his Messenger elim off victories in the Carl Milstein Memorial and a division of the Kentucky Sire Stakes.
Interestingly, Bettor’s Wish was not originally staked to the Art Rooney, either, but his connections paid a $6,000 supplement fee in February to make him eligible. Bettor’s Wish won the $300,000 Rooney by six lengths.
“He’s been great,” said Scott Ezzo, an Ohio resident whose wife Lisa heads Bella Racing Ltd., which is part of the horse’s ownership group. “The Art Rooney was the one that set the stage. When he won that race, we said he was going to be something to enjoy.
“We weren’t sure (what to expect from Bettor’s Wish entering this year). I talked to Chris throughout the winter and he said he was training really well. But Chris never tips his hand. So, when Chris supplemented him to the Art Rooney, that got my attention.”
Bettor’s Wish has attracted plenty of attention in the months to follow. In addition to winning the Milstein and Rooney, the colt finished second in the Meadowlands Pace, missing by a head after being parked out the entire mile, and second in the Cane Pace, where he was defeated by a neck. He also was second in the North America Cup.
Over the course of his career, Bettor’s Wish has won 12 of 22 races and finished worse than second only three times, with two thirds and a fourth accounting for the remaining setbacks.
“It’s been tremendous; we’ve had a lot of fun following him,” Lisa Ezzo said. “We have so many people that are following him along with us. We just love that. It’s been fun for a lot of people, I think.
“I think he’s a little guy and people always want to root for the little guy. But he races big. He doesn’t know his size.”
Bettor’s Wish, by Bettor’s Delight out of Lifetime Star, was purchased for $20,000 at the 2017 Lexington Selected Sale. He has earned $1.11 million so far in his career. The colt is owned by Ryder, Bella Racing, Leah Cheverie’s and Art Zubrod’s Fair Island Farm, and the recently created Bettors Wish Partners group of original owner Ken Solomon and newcomers Dana Parham and Eric Cherry’s Let It Ride Stables.
The Messenger Stakes is the second leg of the Pacing Triple Crown, following the Cane Pace (won by Captain Crunch, who did not enter the Messenger) and ahead of the Little Brown Jug. The Jug is held at the Delaware County Fairgrounds in Delaware, Ohio, which happens to be the hometown of the Ezzos.
Bettor’s Wish is not eligible to the Jug, but a win in the Messenger final would allow his connections to supplement. Any horse not eligible to the Jug can be supplemented if it wins either the North America Cup, Meadowlands Pace, Cane Pace, or Messenger.
“Our backs are against the wall,” Scott Ezzo said. “Hopefully we’ll get in.”
Bettor’s Wish is undefeated in three lifetime races at Yonkers, all this season, and has won six of seven career starts on half-mile tracks, such as Yonkers. His only loss on a half came by a neck in last year’s Battle of Waterloo. He flashed his big-track ability in his most recent victory, stopping the clock in 1:47.4 at Red Mile, which is tied for the second-fastest mile of the season by a 3-year-old pacer.
“He’s proven to me to be very durable,” trainer Ryder said. “Every time he races, he does something that impresses you, he does something good. It’s just a good ride, we just have to keep it up. We’re just taking it week by week.”
The Ezzos have enjoyed success with other horses, such as 2006 Breeders Crown winner Charley Barley and world-record-setter Kiss Me Onthebeach, but Bettor’s Wish has been something else.
“It’s just been incredible,” Scott Ezzo said. “We’ve had some good horses, but he’s the best. I’m not taking anything away from the other ones, but he’s like the Energizer bunny; he just keeps going, and going, and going.”
Joining Bettor’s Wish in the first Messenger elimination, which is a non-betting race, are Captain Trevor, Escapetothebeach, American Mercury, Branquinho, and Lyons Johnnyjnr. Bettor’s Wish starts from post one with regular driver Dexter Dunn.
The horses in the second elimination, which is race five on the betting card, are U S Captain, Air Force Hanover, Aflame Hanover, Waterway, Buddy Hill, and Reigning Deo. Buddy Hill is the 9-5 morning-line favorite.